Can we expect French fries next year?

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Can we expect French fries next year?

The author is a life and economic news team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Fried potatoes go by many names. Koreans are most familiar with “French fries.” After American and British soldiers first tasted fried potatoes in Belgium during World War I, they called it “French fried potatoes,” assuming it was a French dish.

Belgium and France are still fighting over the origin of the fries. As Belgium has a long tradition of fried food, it claims to have started frying potatoes since the 18th century. France claims that the dish spread to Belgium after merchants who had settled in Paris around the time started to eat the dish. The battle over the origin culminated in the Unesco’s designation of French fries as Belgium heritage. France responded that it was absurd because it was a traditional French dish.

Fast food played a key role in turning French fries into the famous potato dish around the world, as seen in meals that include fries and a beverage along with a hamburger.

But French fries are about to disappear from the fast-food menu. If you order a hamburger meal, you get chicken nuggets or cheese sticks instead, as many franchise shops haven’t secured sufficient potato supplies. The yields of major potato-exporting countries have drastically decreased due to issues such as heat waves and heavy rain. Grains are also experiencing a shortage, not just potatoes. Fourteen countries already banned exporting grains, including wheat. Korea’s grain self-sufficiency rate is only 19.3 percent as of 2020, one of the lowest among the OECD member countries. Except for rice, most grains in Korea need to be imported, as the country only produces 0.7 percent of its wheat, 0.7 percent of corn and 6.6 percent of beans on its own. Korea is a weak country in the era of “food security.”

Here, the government’s response is dubious. Until 2025, it plans to increase the wheat self-sufficiency rate from 0.7 percent to 5 percent. (In 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said it would achieve a self-sufficiency rate of 9.9 percent.) That means local farmers are required to grow wheat instead of rice, the demand of which is on a decline. Will the rice paddies be converted to wheat fields? Food industry insiders say it is a typical bureaucracy. For example, Korean potatoes are not suitable for frying, as they have low starch content and high moisture. Even if local potato production increases, they are not going to replace foreign varieties. I hope to see effective on-site administration as I don’t want to experience another “French fries crisis” next year.
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